TORONTO (AP) — The Canadian government has agreed to pay compensation to indigenous people who were taken from their homes and adopted into non-indigenous families.
Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the settlement Friday in what's known as the "Sixties Scoop." Indigenous children were robbed of their cultural identities by being placed with non-native families by child welfare services during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Many lost touch with their culture and language.
The settlement for an estimated 20,000 people is aimed at resolving numerous related lawsuits. The victims will share 750 million Canadian dollars ($596 million), with individual amounts to be determined later. Many said they expected a settlement of around 50,000 Canadian dollars each.
Lead plaintiff Marcia Brown Martel, who was taken by child welfare officials and adopted by a non-native family, called events the "stealing of children."
"I have great hope that because we've reached this plateau that this will never, ever happen in Canada again," said Brown Martel, who was placed in the foster system as a child and suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Many had mixed emotions about the settlement.
"I had no idea I was native until I was a teenager," Colleen Cardinal told The Associated Press. Cardinal was taken from her biological family at the age of two in Alberta and adopted into a non-indigenous family in Ontario along with her two older sisters. She said her sisters were sexually molested by their adopted father.
"There were ongoing attempts to assimilate our people into the mainstream culture," she said, adding that the settlement doesn't amount to much.
"It's quite disappointing," she said. "It's quite low. It should be CA$80,000 or $100,000. A lot of us were taken out of the province, out of the country, taken so far away from our families." Cardinal now lives with post-traumatic stress disorder. But she said she's now happy and is the co-founder and coordinator of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled in February that Canada had breached its "duty of care" to the children and found the government liable.
A tearful Bennett, the government minister, said she couldn't understand how it was allowed to happen.
"I don't know what people were thinking," she said.
The settlement package also includes up to 50 million Canadian dollars for a healing and reconciliation foundation.
The agreement is a "first step" in resolving Sixties Scoop litigation, Bennett added, noting the federal government is committed to working with other indigenous peoples affected.
The Sixties Scoop echoes the history of residential schools in Canada.
Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families over much of the last century and put in government schools, where they were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
Canada's previous prime minister made a historic apology in 2008 to residential school survivors.